Wireless operations at the hump yard

Norfolk Southern Railway automates manual processes with RFID scanners and HMI software processed through eight PCs.



Field engineers can manually input data from anywhere in the yard using Wonderware industrial tablets, and the system shows the same data here.

Field engineers can manually input data from anywhere in the yard using Wonderware industrial tablets, and the system shows the same data here.

Norfolk Southern Railway Company operates more than 21,500 route miles in 22 U.S. states as well as in Ontario, Canada, and uses modern-day automation technology from Wonderware to ensure the smooth operation of its rail lines. Wonderware software is used to manage operations at the railroad company’s “hump” yard in Columbus, OH. A hump yard is a regional gathering point where freight is classified and forwarded to final destinations.

The process of joining the right train cars to the right engines takes place in three areas: a receiving yard, a classification yard in which railcars are pushed over a “hump” to various classification tracks and a forwarding yard. Norfolk Southern Railway uses a supervisory HMI software solution from Wonderware to communicate vital information about its train cars at its Buckeye Hump Yard.

“Wonderware’s industrial computer line has been a great fit for Trainyard Tech’s systems integration operations,” said Darren Kline, marketing manager for Q-Mation, Wonderware’s local distributor, which has been providing Trainyard Tech with support and services since the beginning of the project. “Wonderware’s panel PCs gets used in various areas in the control room, but the tablet PC is perfect for this type of environment. Railyards have a very distributed area in which people managing operations need to be able to control things from out in the field.”

When the system initially became automated, an entire view of the mainframe and mid-range computer systems was required for operators to effectively manage operations. Then, in the early 1990s, Trainyard Tech LLC, a Wonderware original equipment manufacturer, installed Wonderware’s InTouch human-machine interface software running on the Microsoft Windows 3.0 operating system. Now, all of the information is processed through eight PCs.

Implementing InTouch software for visualization and industrial process control enables users to quickly create and deploy customized applications that connect and deliver real-time information. Applications can be accessed from mobile devices, thin clients, computer nodes and over the Internet. For Norfolk, critical pin puller information is easily accessible using Wonderware HMI displays.

Yardmaster can view and access same information as trainmaster and pin-puller.

Yardmaster can view and access same information as trainmaster and pin-puller.

Same information, two locations

“Prior to having a graphical display, the pin pullers had a paper list where they would mark down where all the cars had to be cut,” said Dan Niemiec, principal, Trainyard Tech. “Today, the pin puller display supplies condensed information about the location of each car, what track it is going to and any special handling codes. The yardmaster also can access this information. To keep things in sync between the pin puller and the yardmaster, we provided an InTouch HMI screen to the yardmaster’s display so they can both view and access the same information.”

When a train arrives at the hump yard, scanners with antennas collect information from RFID tags on each train car. Alternatively, a field engineer can manually input data from anywhere in the yard into the supervisory system using Wonderware industrial tablets. This information can be reviewed simultaneously by several train yard employees such as the trainmaster, the receiving yardmaster and the assembly yardmaster who re-assembles the train cars at the end of the humping process. Using symbols like asterisks and plus and minus signs, the pin puller display verifies which train cars have arrived at the yard and ensures that they match the list of cars provided by Norfolk. If there is a discrepancy, the yard personnel can address it right away.

Scanners with antenna collect information from RFID tags on each train car.

Scanners with antenna collect information from RFID tags on each train car.

Efficiency and safety

Increasing efficiency is important because the Buckeye Yard can receive up to 2,000 train cars in any given day. Safety also is key because of the sheer tonnage handled and the dangerous nature of working on the railroad. “The new software has definitely increased the work efficiency of both the yardmasters and the trainmasters here at Buckeye,” said Tim Forman, trainmaster at Norfolk Southern Railway Co. “With the Wonderware software, we’ve become more of a point-and-click operation versus having to manage operations manually.

“In addition, the new Wonderware system has definitely decreased the labor costs involved with the repair and upkeep of the system on a day-to-day basis. We’ve been able to remove a lot of old and antiquated equipment we no longer need due to the upgrades in the current software.”

Buckeye uses a “gravity humping” technique in which at least 100 train cars weighing up to 12,000 tons are shoved to the top of a hill and then carefully rolled down and directed to 40 “classification tracks” where the individual cars are re-sorted and grouped depending on content and destination. So much weight rolling downhill can be very dangerous for yard workers. Mechanisms similar to automobile disc brakes called retarders are used to slow the train cars. The InTouch software collects and shares information on which retarders are active to keep the workers on the track better informed and safe.

Trainyard Tech has realized substantial savings in development time on implementing engineering projects like this one. “The most intriguing thing about the Wonderware system is that you can basically do anything you want,” Niemiec said. “Using InTouch as the front-end to the process control system, we’ve enabled Norfolk Southern Railway to provide critical information to the yardmaster who is the primary user of the system. Online help screens also are available which enables shorter training times. Using the InTouch package, we’ve reduced our development time for the HMI probably 40 to 50 percent.”

“The new software has definitely increased the work efficiency of both the yardmasters and the trainmasters here at Buckeye.”


No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
The true cost of lubrication: Three keys to consider when evaluating oils; Plant Engineering Lubrication Guide; 11 ways to protect bearing assets; Is lubrication part of your KPIs?
Contract maintenance: 5 ways to keep things humming while keeping an eye on costs; Pneumatic systems; Energy monitoring; The sixth 'S' is safety
Transport your data: Supply chain information critical to operational excellence; High-voltage faults; Portable cooling; Safety automation isn't automatic
Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Plant Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.

Maintaining low data center PUE; Using eco mode in UPS systems; Commissioning electrical and power systems; Exploring dc power distribution alternatives
Synchronizing industrial Ethernet networks; Selecting protocol conversion gateways; Integrating HMIs with PLCs and PACs
Why manufacturers need to see energy in a different light: Current approaches to energy management yield quick savings, but leave plant managers searching for ways of improving on those early gains.

Annual Salary Survey

Participate in the 2013 Salary Survey

In a year when manufacturing continued to lead the economic rebound, it makes sense that plant manager bonuses rebounded. Plant Engineering’s annual Salary Survey shows both wages and bonuses rose in 2012 after a retreat the year before.

Average salary across all job titles for plant floor management rose 3.5% to $95,446, and bonus compensation jumped to $15,162, a 4.2% increase from the 2010 level and double the 2011 total, which showed a sharp drop in bonus.

2012 Salary Survey Analysis

2012 Salary Survey Results

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.